When Gregory Brown and Mitchell Moffit started making science videos for YouTube two and a half years ago, they had no idea their hobby would eventually become their full-time jobs.
Brown and Moffit are the creatives behind AsapScience, a YouTube channel that now boasts about three million subscribers, with some videos landing more than 10 million views. Every week, they seek to answer an interesting question using science, armed with the help of a whiteboard, coloured markers, and a voiceover. In three minute videos, they’ve explored subjects like the effects of coffee on the human brain, and how much sleep people really need.
But they’ve also waded into murkier, less concrete topics, like the psychology behind heartbreak, or whether present-day Earth dwellers could stop an asteroid. (That last video featured Bill Nye, the titular character from the kids’ show Bill Nye the Science Guy, and it landed AsapScience more than four million views).
For Brown and Moffit, the goal is to make videos that would both entertain and inform people who were interested in science – and in getting millions of views, they felt they’d landed on something that worked. So the first time they ever tweaked their formula, producing a sponsored video for a brand, they were nervous about how their audience would react.
“I think that was the scariest part. I remember the first sponsorship we ever did, I was actually like, this could ruin our channel. We had this massive fear … I recall that instance being almost like, we can’t do this. We’re going to get so much hate from this,” Moffit said, speaking from Buffer Festival Industry Day, a one-day conference held in Toronto this week by the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab.
“Just the idea for us that we had been paid made us worry that people were going to think we had changed the information to suit the person who was paying us. And just because we work in science and education, there’s that fine balance of, people really need to trust what we’re saying.”
They braced themselves for some negativity – and yet, nothing really happened. The audience didn’t really have any complaints. One of the reasons may be that Brown and Moffit are really clear about whether a video has been sponsored, ensuring they’re transparent and not trying to trick their audience, Brown suggested.
AsapScience now takes on around one sponsor every month, and most sponsored videos still garner a lot of views. One of the most popular ones was a video highlighting how 3D printing works, which was released in December 2013. Although General Electric sponsored that particular piece of content, with Brown and Moffit adding in a mention of the company’s 3D printing promotion at the very end, the video still garnered about 2.3 million views – an impressive feat for a collaboration between a two-year old content creation company, and a brand that is more than a hundred years old.
“When we gave them the script, they never came back and had any issues. When we did the video, they said, OK this is great, and it just worked seamlessly. There was no problem. And that’s what we appreciated – we had the full chance to do our research, use our creative process and do what we usually do,” Brown said.
“Because we’ve learned what people want to hear, we’ve learned how fast it needs to be, how many anecdotes we need to give, how much stuff we need to make to relate to a person so they enjoy the video.”
For Brown and Moffit, there’s definitely a chance for brand sponsorship and content creation to be able to work together – brands just need to be savvy about approaching the right content makers with their messages.
One thing brands can do is to research content creators like AsapScience before they approach them, ensuring the brand’s message and the content creators fit together. It also helps for brands to come up with an engaging question or topic that might get an audience interested, like 3D printing, Moffit said.
Still, he added there’s a delicate balance there for content creators, too. He advises them to stick to their principles, even while they try to be accommodating to the brands that are sponsoring their work.
“It’s OK to say no and say, we’re not comfortable with that,” he said, adding AsapScience has done that before, when they felt a brand really didn’t fit with the theme and core message of their videos.
For Brown, it really comes down to a question of trust.
“Trust the content creator – and though it may seem hard – if we do something and do it well, this is literally what we do 24/7, just to trust us and realize that we know what we’re doing, and to back off a bit and have faith. And probably in the end you will see the payoff,” he said.